Ministry of Health has issued a guidance note for immunization services during and post COVID-19 outbreak. In the guidance note, the Ministry has said that birth dose vaccinations at health facilities will continue irrespective of the categorization of zones amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It said, an area exiting a containment or a buffer zone category can start facility-based and outreach immunization activities only after a minimum gap of 14 days. The document said that in alignment with the area categorization, immunization services will be classified under two heads -- immunization in containment and buffer zone and immunization in areas beyond the buffer and green zone.
The document also specified that in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak, delivery of immunization services for different zones will follow the guidelines of the Home Ministry and Health ministry pertaining to COVID-19 and no state should violate any COVID-19 guidance. Practices of social distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene need to be maintained at all immunization sessions irrespective of zones.
It also said that immunization services in containment and buffer zone would involve no active mobilization to the health facility.At any given time during the immunization session, not more than five persons should be present at the site with at least one-meter distance between each.
Today's Health Ministry announcement was in direct response to WHO warning which said shutting down immunization services due to the COVID-19 pandemic ,can trigger a resurgence of diseases that could be prevented with safe and effective vaccines.
When immunization services are disrupted, even for brief periods during emergencies, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks, such as measles and polio, increase. Last year’s deadly measles outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which took more than 6000 lives in a country which was already facing Ebola outbreak, highlights the importance of maintaining essential health services, such as immunization in times of emergency. Further disease outbreaks will also overwhelm health systems already battling the impacts of COVID-19.
“Disease outbreaks must not remain a threat when we have safe and effective vaccines to protect us,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “While the world strives to develop a new vaccine for COVID-19 at record speed, we must not risk losing the fight to protect everyone, everywhere against vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases will come roaring back if we do not vaccinate.”
WHO is working with partners all over the world to accelerate research and development of a safe and effective vaccine and ensure equitable access for the billions of people who will need it.
In 2018 nearly 20 million children worldwide – more than 1 in 10 – missed out on lifesaving vaccines, such as measles, diphtheria and tetanus. Roughly, 13 million of the children have never received any vaccines, putting them and their communities at risk of disease and death. The majority of these children live in countries with already fragile health systems, further limiting their access to essential health services when they fall sick.
New WHO guidelines on immunization and COVID-19 recommends that governments temporarily pause preventive immunization campaigns where there is no active outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease. But it urges countries prioritize the continuation of routine immunization of children in essential service delivery, as well as adult vaccinations such as influenza for groups most at risk. If immunization services must be suspended, urgent catch-up vaccinations should be rescheduled as soon as possible, prioritizing those most at risk.